Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a staple of western Christmas celebrations. It has been the subject of countless adaptations, and even Mr. Magoo took a crack at playing the lovable old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. The Man Who Invented Christmas spares us yet another rehash of the story and, instead, gives us the epic journey of Charles Dickens conceiving it and bringing it to life.
The film opens with Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) conducting a triumphant tour of America. A year later, he’s back home, has had 3 flops, and is in the middle of expensive renovations to his home. In dire financial straits, Dickens embarks on the ambitious task of writing and publishing a Christmas story in time for Christmas.
Time pressures are not his only problem, though. After an argument with his publisher, he dives further into debt to pay for the publication himself. His estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) escapes from the country house to which he had been banished and returns to London to cause all kinds of havoc. And his wife (Morfydd Clark) informs him she’s pregnant. Again. Continue reading →
After last summer’s excellent Wonder Woman, many fans were hopeful that Warner Brothers had finally turned a corner with their DC film universe. Unfortunately, Justice League proved that Wonder Woman was nothing but a happy anomaly in an otherwise endless sea of wretched films. Zach Snyder directed most of it, and infused the film with his signature bleakness. Joss Whedon was called in to finish directing when Snyder left the project because of a family tragedy. Whedon’s ham-fistedly grafted-on one-liners and attempts at levity are painfully obvious.
Justice League was an expensive movie, but it looked cheap. The big bad Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) was a CGI mess that might have been passable in a video game 5-10 years ago. League member Cyborg (Ray Fisher) was a constantly morphing, humanoid-shaped blob with garish red bits. He’d have looked better if the studio had simply copied the effects from 16-year-old Terminator 2. The endless waves of minions, the weapons, the explosions, the fire effects, the water, pretty much everything looked obviously and horribly fake. You couldn’t get away with releasing a top-tier video game that looked this bad. Continue reading →
Another week, another remake. Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Based on the novel published in 1934, this film, like many works in the mystery genre, relies on a series of wild logical leaps, critical information pulled out of nowhere when the plot requires it, evidence that would never stand up in court, and the tendency of suspects to blurt out confessions at the drop of a hat. The story has been kicking around for over 80 years and has been subjected to numerous adaptations, so no one is likely to be surprised by the outcome. The question for a film like this is: Do the actors and director tell the familiar story in an entertaining way?
The ingredients are certainly there. In addition to Branagh as the famous detective Hercule Poirot, the film features a talent-rich ensemble cast including Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, and Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately, Branagh, wearing his director’s hat, largely wastes them. Continue reading →
Whether intentional or not, Thor: Ragnarok is a delightfully funny spoof of the superhero genre. Director Taika Waititi may or may not have been simply trying to lighten things up a bit, but what he delivered looked like the product of Adam West’s Batman and Don Adam’s Get Smart having a fling with Monty Python (including a brief “I’m not dead yet” gag). And I mean this in a good way.
The silly tone is set immediately with the opening sequence, and there’s a huge supporting cast of weird characters to keep the laughs going. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is the last surviving Valkyrie bent on consuming as much alcohol as she possibly can (and it’s a LOT). She reluctantly helps Thor (Chris Hemsworth) try to reclaim Asgard from his big sister Hela (Cate Blanchett). Continue reading →